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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Coalition Brings Out Some of the Big Guns

Aired March 28, 2003 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Daryn Kagan live in Kuwait City; it is 10:00 AM on Friday morning. Looking at the top headlines here.
The coalition brought out some of the big guns as it continued to pound Baghdad. Iraq's International Communication Center was on fire following massive explosions. Buildings around Iraq's Information Ministry and the Al Salam Presidential Palace also appeared to be hit. Our Garry Striker is aboard the USS Roosevelt; he was told that ten Tomahawk missiles were fired at targets in and around the city.

Also used on Baghdad, two Bunker Buster bombs. At least one of them was a 4500-pound GBU-37. Pentagon sources say the bombs were dropped from a B-2 Stealth bomber.

Coalition artillery fired overnight at Iraqi forces near Najaf, B-52 bombers also assaulted Iraqi ranks dropping numerous bombs on a convoy heading south. The firefight ended three days of intense fighting around the city by the Army's 7 Calvary.

Three oil wells on fires have been put out in southern Iraq but six others continue to burn. Kuwaiti firefighters are working to help extinguish those fires. British officials believe that oil experts will resume -- actually, exports will resume from the south in just about three months.

Twelve Marines have been listed as missing in the past day in the fighting around Nasiriya. Teams are combing the desert looking for those men. Eleven of the Marines are with the Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade out of Camp LeJeune in North Carolina.

And several journalists are missing in Iraq. Three Al-Arabiya journalists were embedded with U.S. troops are missing. They've been out of contact with their networks since Saturday.

Two journalists working for "Newsday" have been since Monday. Matt McAllester and Moises Saman were based in Baghdad. Other reporters there said that the two were told by Iraqi officials to leave the country.

Coming up this hour in CNN's coverage of the war in Iraq, we're going to tell you where the coalition stands in its march towards Baghdad. Plus coping with desperate civilians as well as Iraqi troops near Basra. And humanitarian aid is finally about to arrive in the port of Umm Qasr.

But for now, back to our continuing coverage of the War in Iraq with Anderson Cooper and Carol Costello.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: An explosive start to week two of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Literally, from the air, ground and sea the U.S. military unleashes its firepower.

Good morning, it's Friday, March 28. From CNN's global headquarters in Atlanta, I'm Anderson Cooper.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Carol Costello. It's 2 AM on the East Coast, 10 AM in Baghdad.

We want to bring you up to date now with the latest in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Baghdad is reeling from one of the heaviest bombardment so far in the week old war. Pentagon sources say Bunker Buster bombs fell on the capitol last night. Coalition forces are now within 50 miles of Baghdad. The Pentagon warns their toughest fighting may come when they confront the Republican Guard defending the capitol.

President Bush insists the U.S. is in the Iraq War for as long as it takes to win, but so far, Saddam Hussein's regime, unlike that sign you just saw, has been no pushover.

COOPER: Excuse me. Here's a look at some of the troop movements at this hour. The Army's 3-7 Cavalry is resting after enduring days of nearly constant fire near Najaf. Look at this video; it's just amazing what it's like being inside that. The Cavalry is helping lead the coalition advance to Baghdad from the south.

British troops report destroying 14 Iraqi tanks in a fierce battle on the southern city of Basra. Residents have been fleeing the city; we've been seeing a lot of that all day.

A northern Iraq airfield secured by U.S. Army paratroopers is becoming the launch pad for the coalition's march to Baghdad from the north. Planes are bringing in tanks, armored personnel carriers, troops and artillery to Harir Airfield.

COSTELLO: Yes, let's stay in northern Iraq right now and check in with Kevin Sites. He's been in Chamchamal over the last several weeks.

Kevin, what's happening right now?

KEVIN SITES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Carol. I am actually standing in what we believed to be a 500-pound bomb crater. As you've seen us all week, we've been reporting from the rooftop of the building we rented in Chamchamal. Now we are actually reporting from the Iraqi position on the hillside that coalition forces hit so fiercely just two days ago.

We hiked up here today with our videophone gear and we got a chance to look around this command bunker and it is just literally obliterated. I don't have an ISB that reaches far enough down into this crater but just to give you an idea of the size, it's probably about 25 feet in circumference and about 15 feet deep. The explosion just must have been massive. And the area surrounding it has also just been blown to bits.

I went around and I collected little bits of pieces of metal and personal items that I could see around here just to give you an idea of what life was like. I'm going to set the phone down just for a second and show you a couple of things that I found.

COSTELLO: Go ahead,

SITES: Found things that show people were really living up here like a tube of toothpaste. There's a bubble pack that held some aspirin, this is the cone of an RPG, a rocket propelled grenade. Obviously, it doesn't have any explosives in it but there's all kinds of these, dozens and dozens surrounding around this hillside.

This is a piece of metal that most likely came from the bomb that was dropped on this location. It looks like a fairly thin piece of metal yet it probably weighs about 20 pounds. It's got serrated edges, razor sharp; it could probably do some major damage.

It just really gives some evidence of the kind of life that was lived up here as these Iraqis watched our transmission down on the hill (AUDIO GAP) -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Kevin, just fascinating, things that you're showing us this morning.

I wanted to ask you. You said the Iraqi troops are no longer where you are. Can you get into any detail about what happened to them, where they are now?

SITES: Well, as you remember when we reported just a couple of days ago about the coalition air strikes on this position. They hit it about six times massively and the next day the Peshmerga fighters, those are the Kurdish fighters absorbed the position. They didn't see any activity up here. And about 3:00 they sent in some scouting troops to check out the area. And they found out that it actually had been abandoned. There had been a hasty retreat here.

They found a few anti-aircraft guns. We talked to an eyewitness that actually was among those scouting patrols and he that it looks like they moved out fairly quickly.

Now, where they pulled back to, we're not sure but this is the road to Kirkuk. This was a defended position that basically protected the flank -- the Western Flank of Kirkuk, which is about 40 kilometers from here. So, we assume they may have pulled back towards a defensive position there -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And one more time since you're bringing us these amazing pictures this morning. Can you have your photographer pull back so we can see that massive hole that you're standing in?

SITES: I certainly will.

Hey Bill, can you pull back a little so they can see the circumference of this 500-pound bomb crater?

I have to tell you, it's pretty amazing. We've been watching this spot since the beginning of the war. And we watched the soldiers up here with our binoculars, we watched them walking around the ridge line...

COSTELLO: Just amazing. Kevin, can you still here me?

SITES: Yes, I can still hear you. Can you hear me Carol?

COSTELLO: I can hear you. I just wanted to ask you what kind of weaponry the Iraqi troops had in your position when they were there?

SITES: Well, they had Dushka machine guns, which are heavy machine guns. And in fact, I'm going to try to pick one up and show you just a round. The rounds are probably about four inches long. It doesn't have a projectile.

They have RPG, rocket propelled grenades (AUDIO GAP) and tossing it around.

COSTELLO: We're having a little bit of trouble with Kevin's audio and you might suspect since he's in that huge bomb crater.

COOPER: Yes.

COSTELLO: We're going to break away from you right now so we can get the audio problems...

COOPER: And it's amazing when you look at the bomb crater, Kevin was saying he believes it was a 500-pound bomb. The bombs that have been dropped on Baghdad within the last couple of hours...

COSTELLO: Twenty-one hundred pounds.

COOPER: Well, actually 4500 pound bombs.

COSTELLO: Two of them.

COOPER: The 2100 is the MOAB, which they initially...

COSTELLO: Oh, I'm sorry. That's right.

COOPER: ... thought was because the explosion apparently was so large they actually believed -- observers believed may be it was that bomb, that MOAB that we've heard so much about.

COSTELLO: Right, and the Pentagon had to come out and say it wasn't that one. It wasn't the Mother of All of Bombs.

COOPER: Right. Right. Which is what the nickname of the bomb is. That 21,000 pounds, apparently there were two of these so-called Bunker Buster bombs, which are like 4500 pounds. But when you consider that was a 500-pound bomb and that enormous crater, you can only imagine 4500-pound Bunker Buster must do. It's interesting to see actually one person standing inside a crater that. You really get a sense of perspective.

COSTELLO: Truly amazing.

COOPER: We're staying in northern Iraq because there's a lot going on in northern Iraq right now.

We're going to check in with Ben Wedeman who is in Kalak in Kurdish territory, northern Iraq.

Ben, what's the latest where are you?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson within the last basically two hours, we've seen four large explosions behind the ridge where the Iraqi forces are currently ensconced. In fact, within the last 10 minutes basically, we saw two very, large explosions, this after we heard an airplane flying overhead.

Now, according to our local sources, which are basically smugglers who have been working the line between this area and Mosul under Iraqi control for many years. According to those smugglers, they have sited at about the same distance from where we are, ten to fifteen kilometers away in the direction of Mosul, a large number of Iraqi artillery pieces and tanks. Which may explain why these coalition planes are hitting that area behind me.

Now meanwhile, we've got about an hour from here, at the Harir Airfield outside the Kurdish stronghold of Erbil, a continual arrival of U.S. forces. The 173 Airborne Brigade normally based in Italy has been arriving in that airfield since early yesterday morning. At about 3 AM, they started to drop from the air into that airfield, securing it so to speak, U.S officials -- military officials describing it as a semi-permissive environment.

In this case it's a very permissive environment because that airfield is controlled by Kurdish forces who are very happy to see the arrival of the American forces in this area.

Now, we've been told many times by Kurdish sources that they expect the number of U.S. forces in this area to reach somewhere between five and six thousand. Which is a rather modest number when you into account the fact that a raid against them on a 500 mile front, or more than 120,000 Iraqi soldiers.

Now, regarding those soldiers, we've heard from Kurdish intelligence officials that as many as 200 Iraqi soldiers have surrendered, given themselves up in the last five days, many of them in this area, some of them swimming across the river. They also tell us that most of those defectors so to speak, are ordinary conscripts but there are some officers among them -- Anderson.

COOPER: Ben, just so I'm absolutely clear. Can you give a visual sense of where the Iraqi forces are? Sort of how far they are, I mean are they over your shoulder, just sort of a general sense.

WEDEMAN: OK, I'm going to have Mary Rogers, my camerawoman pan over.

Basically, what you see in the foreground is the town of Kalak, which is under Kurdish control. Above that, the ridgeline that you see in the background is the -- that is where the Iraqi positions are. They're arranged all along that ridge. We have seen them; we've been watching them closely over the last month or so. It's a fair number of them. There are several hundred along that ridgeline. They have mortars, heavy mortars, heavy machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, anti- tank guns as well. And behind this Ridge, we're told are their command bunkers.

Now, yesterday four bombs were dropped on that area behind the ridge basically early in the morning. As I said today, the bombs are falling much further behind that ridge.

So, the pressure continues. And the one interesting scene we saw yesterday was after that initial early morning bombing; aircraft were flying over this area for several hours. And Mary Rogers, my camerawoman and companion out here was saying that she actually got a shot of those soldiers who were walking between their positions and when they heard the aircraft overhead, they were scurrying toward their bunkers. So, they're very conscious obviously, of the possibility that any moment that these aircrafts that are flying overhead will let loose with some of their bombs -- Anderson.

COOPER: And Ben, just briefly, a final question. The arrival of the 173 Airborne Division at this airfield, has it changed the mood on the ground among the Kurds where you are?

WEDEMAN: Yes it has. They are very happy with this news, with their arrival. They've been a little frustrated over the past several days, and in fact weeks that they didn't arrive here earlier. And a good deal of frustration with the Turks of course. Turkey not providing the permission to allow more than 62,000 U.S. troops to cross Turkey into northern Iraq. Now, that obviously would have opened up a much bigger northern front.

At this point, how you're really going to take on the Iraqis with five or six thousand men is something the Kurds themselves are debating. Now, the difference between northern Iraq and southern Iraq in addition to being a much more hospitable environment politically and environmentally is that the Kurds are very much opposed to Saddam Hussein. They hate him with a vengeance.

They recall the chemical attacks on Jalabja that killed more than 5,000 Kurds, the program that was launched by Saddam Hussein of Arabization; which basically involved the explosion of the Kurdish population from much of this area.

They are very anxious to take Saddam Hussein on but at the same time, they know they the kind of heavy equipment, the tanks and whatnot that they can do that with. But they say, that if the United States were to engage Iraqi forces in this area that they, the Kurds have the experience, the familiarity with the terrain. Many of them were in fact at some point in the Iraqi Army. Many of their officers were trained in the Iraqi officers school. So, they say they have the experience that would really make the difference for coalition forces should they decide to open an active and vigorous northern front -- Anderson.

And of course, that situation is difficult given Turkey's lack of permission to allow the land -- the use of land to get troops through. It's a question of how much supplies, how much weaponry can be brought in by air into that newly opened airfield?

Ben Wedeman, thanks very much in Kalak. We'll come back to you later --Carol.

COSTELLO: And we want to stay in northern Iraq to get a different perspective right now. We want to talk to David Turnley who is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer.

David, can you tell us in general where you are?

DAVID TURNLEY, PHOTOGRAPHER: Carol, we are standing right now on the eastern front in the north, in a position in a town called Kalar, which is about 180 kilometers from Baghdad. It is effectively the closest point on the northern front to Baghdad.

And I am standing next to Mohammed Hussein who is a English school teacher teaching 16-year-olds in this town, and I wanted to ask him if he could tell us how life is these days in town for his 16- year-old students.

MOHAMMED HUSSEIN, ENGLISH TEACHER: Yes, the situation here in this town is very terrible, especially before -- two days before starting the operation, Iraqi Freedom Operation, the people here felt very afraid. That is why they left their houses. Now you see they just take and left to the market. You see the shops -- most of the shots are close. Few people are covering around Arjaf, these people are in the city because they feel no security. No safety, that is why they run away and now they are living in tense, in a very bad condition.

TURNLEY: Carol, they have moved from the western side of north over here to the east. It has been an interesting evolution of feeling more and more a tense and anticipation of the war given the proximity to Baghdad.

COSTELLO: David is this the first time you've met Mohammed Hussein?

TURNLEY: We were actually trying to do a standup last night in getting all of this camera gear out and set up and as we were doing that, this gentleman who is standing in front of me, Mohammed appeared in best spoken, impeccable English and started to explain to me a little the situation here in Kalar.

COSTELLO: Can you tell us how they are feeling about American -- and American troops being there?

TURNLEY: Let's ask Mohammed.

Mohammed how do the people in this town feel about the arrival of American troops here in the north?

HUSSEIN: They feel very happy. They feel very happy and they are so very happy to have the alliance Army in the city because still now very few alliance soldiers arrive in the city. Even, I haven't seen them. The people say that they saw them. But we are very comfortable and happy to have them with us because the people here are still very afraid of the Iraqi regime because we are always remembered the chemical bombing of Jalaja in 1998 when the Iraqi regime attacked the city with the chemical which is -- which is in fact one of the mass destruction weapons used against us.

That is why we very we are very happy to have them with us and ask them to be here as soon as possible, because our city is just 30 kilometers from the forefront of the Iraqi Army. And he may attack us anytime he likes.

TURNLEY: Carol we are standing in Kalar and a very interesting sort of configuration in terms of the geography. On the one hand you have to the south 180 kilometers to Baghdad, on the other hand you have just to the east of us Iran. And then a little bit to the north is the town of Jalaja. Which is where the fundamentalist group, an ancillary group of al Qaeda functions from; the group, which was reportedly responsible for the suicide bombing and the death of the Australian journalist one week ago.

COSTELLO: I was also curious as to the rest of the people around you, who they are.

TURNLEY: What you see surrounding us right now is the -- essentially the dynamic that we've encountered in the last couple of days here. The city is sort of interesting mix of people who seem to be anxious and very anticipating of the opening of the front and the fall of Baghdad.

And so what you find is exactly what you are seeing here, people tend to be mulling around; there is a lot of activity in the market place. There is not a lot of food to buy. People seem to sit and talk, they drink tea. They are very interested in us, we're effectively among the only western faces that you will see here in this town.

COSTELLO: I was going to ask you more about the food and water, and if it is plentiful for the people there.

TURNLEY: I wouldn't say the people here are in fact desperate, but they certainly acknowledged that supplies, food, water are more scarce in general. Of course, the Kurdish hospitality here is quite unbelievable and there seems to be a sort of collective way of getting through whatever. So people don't seem to ever go without. And the hospitality they have shown to us has been quite impressive.

The other thing that I find here that sometimes has a kind of surreal feeling is that as you are invited in the homes of the people to sit and drink tea, to have food. There is always a television set that is on and is generally the set playing either CNN or Fox News or one of the American networks channels from a satellite dish. So you are effectively getting an American television perspective here in northern Iraq for the people here.

COSTELLO: That is interesting because we thought that they were not seeing American television, but you say that they are. I mentioned before that you are a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer. You have taken great pictures in the first Gulf War. We want to put one up in the screen right now. I do not know if you can see this David, but I think you are inside of a chopter. This picture was taken inside of a chopper and we can see people crying. Can you explain to us what this is?

TURNLEY: Yes Carol. In 1991 I was attached to an elite MASH unit in the first Gulf War. I spent two months with these men and women. It was a team of 40 strong doctors and nurses, the cream of the cream of the American military corp. And on the very last day of the war at about 5AM, I was awakened by the captain who flies helicopter missions and invited to fly missions into the sea of war to pick up casualties.

Around 11:00, we got a call and the pilot, I could tell suddenly looked much more serious than he had in we flew deep into Iraq near An Nasiriyah where as we touched down we could see a Bradley fighting vehicle that had been split in two by a missile. There were soldiers thrown out the back of the Bradley and we loaded three of them into the -- excuse me, two of these young soldiers into the helicopter.

In the meantime, the medics had gone back. The driver of the Bradley fighting vehicle had been severely, not only injured, but killed and medics had to collect his body, put it into a body bag. As they brought the body bag and then put it into the helicopter, I got in. We lifted off, and the medic on the right handed the I.D. card of the soldier in the body bag over in front of the soldier on the left. And it was at that moment that this soldier understood that this was his best friend that was in that body bag. And it was at that moment that I made this picture.

COSTELLO: That is just an amazing picture, and an amazing story. And I am sure you are getting many more amazing stories as you are out and about.

Are you going to stay around in that area with the people, watching as events unfold?

TURNLEY: I believe that I will be Carol. As I said, where I am right now is on the furthest eastern side of the northern front and the closest proximity to Baghdad which suites me very well.

COSTELLO: David Turnley - thanks for your insight and thanks for putting a human face on all of this for us.

COOPER: Well, there is a lot happening on the military front throughout Iraq at this hour. All of -- for the next several hours this is when a lot of our embedded correspondents are able to check in finally after several hours of not hearing from them. So we really -- I don't know if you've just joining us here on -- here at 2:20 or so AM for the next couple hours you are going to be seeing a lot of live reports from the front lines. Marty Savidge is on videophone right now with us from the First Battalion Seven Marines somewhere in southern Iraq.

Marty what is the situation where you are?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well we are in southern Iraq heading and pushing north towards central Iraq. We are up front at the very head of this battalion that is on the move, the First Battalion Seven Marine. And it is a convoy obviously. What we have decided to do today, you can tell by riding up in the front you get caught quite a bit of dust and dirt on you.

We are following the CAANT Team, this is CAANT Team Red. CANNT Team means in military jargon, Combined Armor Anti-tank Team it is basically about 9 vehicles that make up a platoon that are heavily armed and they are armed in the backs of Hummers here, who are the jeeps that the military uses. You can see up front that missile launcher, that is a Toll (ph) missile are very effective anti-tank weapons. Of course, they have a machine gun that has well -- the reason that these vehicles right now are even up in front here is that they are providing force security for the convoy as it moves forward.

You have heard about harassment techniques that has been taken on by some Guerilla forces here believed to be the Fedayeen which are paramilitary units which are loyal to Saddam Hussein have been striking at times along the very stretch of that supplies line that goes all the way to northern Kuwait.

So these teams are designed to deal with that. They are highly mobile. They are quick reactives. They are almost like a Rat Patrol if you think back to sort of the older days. And if there is any problem, they are the trip wire. They are the early warning. Riding out in front of the convoy, they may get hit. They may take fire. They can quickly respond, they can figure out where the firing is coming from and then if necessary reserve units in the back, the armored personnel carriers, the Marines that with them can be pulled forward to help deal with that threat. So this is how they are sort of adjusting to deal with these attacks that have been coming along the supply lines.

Essentially what we will do is move farther forward several more kilometers and eventually get into built up areas where they think some of these Fedayeen units are living, housing and working out of, and begin to spread out and try to attack them at their home bases. And thereby try to eliminate the problem at its source. Now that is the theory. We will see, in fact if that is how it works out.

We are not alone on the roadway here. As I said we are at the front of our particular convoy. Take a look around. I don't know if we can show them Gerard with the camera, but there is a lot of military material out on the roadways here. Some of it is being delivered in camps that are sort of stop alongs all along the highway. Other is just material is being pushed forward. And that is everything from fuel to food, to medical supplies, to road construction equipment. Sometimes bridges have to be built ahead of convoy and it is literally, although on this -- if you can come and take a look over at this side of the road. We will try to make it a slow turn here. You can see that there is just everywhere you look it is like one big giant construction site of military equipment. So there is a lot of stuff here. And we are just one convoy moving through it.

COOPER: Martin you talked about going to the home -- homes of these Fedayeen fighters, that being the plan at least. Is that - that is the first time that I have heard of that. We have heard so much that the Fedayeens are sniping. These sort of hit and run tactics on supply lines and the like. Some of which you told us about, I think 24 hours ago or so.

Is this the first time at least for your unit going -- taking the battle to the homes, trying to get them where they live?

SAVIDGE: It is. I mean there is really sort of two stages in the way this developed. Obviously, when the attacks first began against convoys in the supply lines, the initial reaction is you must safeguard the elements that are moving up. You must provide for security and that is what the Marines did initially was to escort the convoys. The proactive effect, I guess according to Marine commanders now would be of course to try to shut down these Fedayeen forces at their source.

And they have a dual approach for this one. No.1, is they go into towns and villages using translators and using the SIOPS (ph) people, which have very large speakers on their vehicles and try to communicate with the people that live there through the citizenry and say look if you are harboring these Fedayeen. If they are in your neighborhood, if you are putting them up, then you are jeopardizing yourselves and the village itself, because you then may become targets as we go after the Fedayeens. And you don't want that, and we don't want that. So they try the hearts and minds technique.

And that at the same time though when they do come under attack, they respond with very heavy force trying to make a clear example here that you don't go trying to attack U.S. military convoys here. And if you do, you are going to pay a substantial price. So you have a sort of a good cop and the bad cop approach on dealing with this. But now it is moving to a further stage and that is try to find out where these troops operating out of, what is their home base, so to speak. And then the Marines will try to stamp them out.

COOPER: And as you pointed out, I mean this really requires the cooperation to a certain degree of the civilian population in whatever a town -- whatever little village you are going through. How confident are the Marines you are with that they are going to get that cooperation?

SAVIDGE: Well it is difficult to say at this particular time. They tried this technique back where we came from the past two nights and they say that the combination of fire power and talking power --- if you will, did seem to quiet down the assaults they were having at least in this particular region. Not saying they got completely quiet, but they were not having the heavy hits that they had taken in days previous. So is that is an indication, perhaps.

The other thing you have to keep in mind is that we are in very rural areas. And a lot of these people and I say the Iraqis who we have come across may not necessarily know exactly what is going on. I mean I don't believe they have access to CNN. I don't believe that they have access to a lot of the outside world. So suddenly to see military units rolling across could be quite confusing to them. Confusing in the sense that they see military all the time in their part if the world, but not necessarily the U.S. military.

So for them it could be just more military coming by.

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